Japanese automakers long have put unusual names on cars not sold in America. But Nissan's 2008 Rogue has a name that should play well both in Japan and America because it looks sexy and is pretty fast - at least for a practical 4-cylinder vehicle.

The refined Rogue is Nissan's first entry in the increasingly crowded compact SUV/crossover-utility vehicle market. It comes in S and higher-line SL trim levels with front- or all-wheel drive.

Prices are competitive. They start at $19,250 for the front-wheel-drive S, which costs $20,450 with all-wheel drive. They end at $21,870 for the SL with all-wheel drive. The front-wheel-drive SL lists at $20,670.

Even the S is pretty well-equipped, with such items as air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD audio system, split/fold rear bench seat and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry.

The SL has more standard equipment and is offered with options not available for the S. Major SL extras include an $800 moonroof, $1,800 Leather Package that contains a power driver's seat and heated leather-covered seats.

Standard for both trim levels are front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags for both seating rows.

Smooth, Potent Engine
A smooth, sophisticated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower transmits power through a responsive continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

You can get the CVT with optional steering-wheel paddle shifters, but they're rather superfluous for most because the Rogue only weighs about 3,400 pounds and thus has lively acceleration without the need for manual shifting.

Fake Ratios
A CVT has no "set" number of gear ratios, but some automakers give such a transmission electronically fake ratios so those accustomed to conventional transmissions feel more comfortable with this fairly new type of transmission. The Rogue thus has six preset ratios that mimic a conventional transmission's ratios.

Fuel economy with front-wheel drive is an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 27 on highways. The figures are 21 and 26 with the versatile all-wheel-drive system. That's not much of a mileage hardship, considering the added traction provided by all-wheel drive, which often causes estimated economy to slip more in both city and highway driving.

The Rogue accelerates quickly, with a brisk 65-75 mph passing time and good acceleration to highway cruising speeds. The 4-cylinder seemingly provides the punch of a decent V6.

Fun to Drive
Moreover, the Rogue is fun to drive. It is very car-like because it's based on Nissan's Sentra compact sedan. The power rack-and-pinion steering is quick and easy, and the all-independent suspension provides a ride that's firm but supple.

While handling is good, the Rogue doesn't like being pushed too hard because it has front-heavy (60 percent) weight distribution. Stability and traction control systems help keep the Rogue on the road in dicey conditions.

Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution assure steady stopping, and the brake pedal has the right amount of firmness.

The Rogue provides the room expected in a well-designed compact SUV/crossover. Four tall adults fit comfortably, with an especially roomy back seat.

The floor is a little higher than a car's, so extra effort is needed to get in. But door handles are large, and front door openings are wide. On the other hand, rear door openings should be wider for easier entry and exit. Interior handles for all doors are large.

Nice Interior
The good-looking interior has decent plastics and metallic trim. It's quiet in there even at highway speeds, and controls for the sound and climate control systems are large. The driver's power window controls are conveniently placed on the door, and the dual console cupholders are deep to handle large beverage containers.

A pull-down hook on the rear of the front passenger seat can hold such items as a purse or dry cleaning - a small, but thoughtful, touch.

A manual-tilt steering wheel helps various-sized drivers get comfortable, but the oddly styled fuel and coolant temperature gauges are tiny. The plastic pull-out rear cupholders look sturdy, but are set low near the floor at the rear of the front console. The glove compartment is especially large, and front doors have storage pockets.

Easy Cargo Loading
The low, wide opening to the large cargo area enhances loading, and rear seatbacks can be flipped forward for more cargo space.

A moderately deep covered area below the rear of the cargo floor allows you to conceal objects, besides providing an area for wet or dirty items.

New Rogue owners may search in vain for awhile to find the manual hood prop because it's on the underside of the hood instead of being conventionally located low and near the radiator. But the sideways mounted engine allows lots of room under the hood for easy access to fluid filler areas.

The nicely built Rogue should do well in its rookie year because it's stylish, practical and should be cheap to own and operate.

MSN Autos

© 2009 Microsoft

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